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Inis Cealtra plan animated by rich medieval characters

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EARLY medieval characters linked to Inis Cealtra will be given a new lease on life at the interpretive centre being developed in Mountshannon, to illuminate the role of the island as a pilgrimage destination and place of religious devotion.
Consultants working on the Inis Cealtra project have been outlining what they believe are relatable themes and stories that will engage a wide variety of visitors with the history of the island. They have also promised that the exhibition space will promote the entire East Clare area.
Earlier this month, Tandem Partners held a workshop on Zoom, which was attended by over 25 people including politicians, community leaders, tourism and hospitality providers.
Those taking part heard how characters, including The Queen of Munster, Gormlaith, will form part of the narrative used to tell the story of Inis Cealtra and its significance in early medieval Europe.
According to records, Gormlaith was a powerful woman whose marriage alliances included Brían Ború (976-1014) High King of Ireland and Olaf Curan, Viking King of Dublin. Gormlaith was buried on Holy Island in 1076.
Her character is one of four chosen to explore different aspects of the history of Inis Cealtra. Others include, the ‘Teenage Traveller’, a young girl discovered to have been buried in St Caimin’s Church.
Also included is the character of the ‘Miserable Monk’, Coscrach Trughan. An anchorite, or religious recluse, records describe Coscrach as a high-status ecclesiastical official who followed the most severe form of pilgrimage.
The quartet is completed by the character of Anchad, dubbed a ‘German Troublemaker’. He was another anchorite, but was banished for disobedience from Inis Cealtra by his abbot Corcram.
The development of the four characters is part of efforts described in the project brief to create “a motivating and immersive visitor experience that tells rich Pilgrim/Ecclestical stories of Inis Cealtra and the rich natural environment of Lough Derg and its hinterland in a fun and engaging manner using both tour guides and appropriate technology”.
According to Tandem, the interpretative strategy will “inspire and engage audiences through a blended approach using interactive technology, artistically inspired interpretation, multi-sensory interactivity and narratives that provoke, relate and engage audiences by exploring ideas around pilgrimage in Early Medieval Ireland, modern Ireland and even around the world”.
Each visitor will be given a pilgrim satchel that holds their audio-guide and brochure.
“This is a nod to travelling pilgrims of medieval Europe and the attire they wore on their long pilgrimages,” Tandem said.
Boat trips may also incorporate immersion in more details about the island’s history.
“The fun and thrill of the water-based experience could be complemented by high-quality spoken tour or audio tour for non-English speakers,” the consultants have proposed.
“The trip should include an around the island route (tbc) prior to setting foot on the island and allow the slow-tourism element of the brand to flourish.”
On the island itself, visitors will be able to avail of guided and self-guided and audio-guided tours.
A number of audio stops on island will lead to a final stop, which triggers a video element of the tour which promises to immerse the visitor in an 11th century view of Inis Cealtra.
Overall, the interpretative strategy being devised by Tandem, in consultation with local stakeholders, will focus on four specific points – pilgrimage, place, journey and Mountshannon itself.
Consultants have pledged that the exhibition space will have “a well-planned layout where visitors will understand the ‘whole’ of the story of Mountshannon within the context of Inis Cealtra”.
Areas of interest in Mountshannon, identified by the consultants, are the 18th century market house, Winter’s Cottage and Mountshannon House, as well as the 19th century forge.
Other highlights include the churches, old schoolhouse, Aistear Park, the white-tailed eagles, as well as diverse activities including craft and food.
Cathaoirleach of the Killaloe Municipal District, Councillor Pat Hayes, who was among those who attended the virtual briefing, welcomed the focus on wider tourism interests.
“We have a wonderful opportunity here,” he said. “We have long known that Inis Cealtra is the jewel in the crown for tourism in East Clare.
“That’s why we need the visitor experience to showcase the full range of offerings in the area and I think there is potential to do that.”
Inis Cealtra was purchased by Clare County Council in 2015. Last February, the authority submitted a Part 8 Planning Application for The Old Rectory building overlooking Mountshannon Harbour and Lough Derg to progress a mainland visitor centre.
The Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience is a collaborative project involving the countil, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands (Fáilte Ireland), Waterways Ireland, the Office of Public Works (OPW), the National Monuments Service and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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